Monday, December 10, 2012

Help, Thanks, Wow by Anne Lamott

Anne Lamott’s little book on prayer, Help, Thanks, Wow, is not a theological work, it is a personal essay.  Of course, there is theology.  Lamott suggests prayer is important whatever your conception of god, be it something from a formal religion or just a notion of something bigger than ourselves.  Even an atheist can pray.  Prayer is communication for our hearts to something else, something greater.

As the title suggest, she considers three prayers particularly important.  The first is, “Help.”  Praying “Help” is a way to admit we don’t have the answers or power to solve a problem.  We let go and trust that something bigger has good answers and power to achieve good results, even if it is not exactly what we want.  I see in this prayer not just a reaching out for aid, but a practice of humility.  It is amazing how near we can find God to be when we are humble.

I have written elsewhere that I consider gratitude to be essential to a happy life.  Lamott’s second prayer is, “Thanks.”  It is an important courtesy to thank those who help us, and if you seem to receive mysterious, improbable help from strangers, or no human agent at all, maybe a prayer of thanks would be in order.  Lamott suggests that we pray our thanks even when we don’t get what we want.  We should be thankful things were not worse.  We should be thankful that things are somehow okay even though we didn’t get what we want, even though something bad happened.  Gratitude is a path to peace and character.

The final prayer is, “Wow.”  It is an expression of wonder and awe.  Sometimes we experience something that blows us away: the beauty of nature and art, the love of others, the changes we see in ourselves, and other wonders.  Wow is a great prayer because it shows we can still sense and appreciate the amazing things around us.

As I mentioned, the book is personal.  It is not a detailed autobiography.  She tells enough of a story to illustrate a point, often that life sucks sometimes, and moves on.  The book has a very informal, conversational tone.  Lamott doesn’t come across as someone making an argument for the importance of prayer, she is simply talking about something that is important to her and explaining why she finds in meaningful.

Lamott, Anne.  Help, Thanks, Wow: The Three Essential PrayersNew York: Riverhead, 2012.